Intelsat and OneWeb to provide multi-orbit inflight connectivity

TAMPA, Fla. — Intelsat said Aug. 11 it has signed a global distribution deal with OneWeb to provide multi-orbit inflight connectivity solutions for airlines.

The agreement enables Intelsat, which currently uses satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO) to connect airline passengers, to also provide low Earth orbit (LEO) solutions once OneWeb deploys the last third of its constellation. 

The companies expect to be able to provide the multi-orbit services by 2024.

LEO satellites can provide lower-latency broadband than satellites farther away from the Earth in GEO. OneWeb’s polar-orbiting network would also provide more global coverage than GEO satellites fixed along the equator. 

Meanwhile, larger and more powerful GEO spacecraft can bring more capacity to densely populated areas, such as bustling airports.

“The hybrid service offering further allows the global airline community to plan their suite of next-generation onboard services with confidence,” Intelsat president of commercial aviation Jeff Sare said in a statement.

The partnership announcement comes soon after OneWeb and French GEO fleet operator Eutelsat agreed a plan to merge their companies, following other multi-orbit tie-ups in the industry.

Intelsat spokesperson Clay McConnell said its hybrid inflight connectivity solution would use an electronically steered antenna it announced last month

This terminal stands 90 millimeters high on an airplane’s fuselage, and is designed to automatically switch between satellites in GEO and other orbits.

“The routing algorithm sitting behind the modems makes switching decisions based on what system will provide the best connectivity for the aircraft at its given location at that time,” McConnell said.

“This algorithm will be based on years of Intelsat [inflight connectivity] experience and makes routing decisions based on a complex service fabric.”

The terminal is based on antenna technology from Ball Aerospace and will use integration designs and hardware from Stellar Blu Solutions.

Intelsat expects the antenna will first be installed on a CRJ-700 regional jet airliner in late 2022, ahead of production installations about a year later.

OneWeb said it successfully tested high-speed services with its LEO network on a Boeing commercial airliner in May, when it achieved 260 megabits per second download and 80 megabits per second upload speeds.

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